The Silver Bullet: An MG34 FireFight | Print |  E-mail
Written by Don MacVittie   
Sunday, 27 August 2006
For our second FireFight! Don takes on a mass of German MG34 teams to examine quality, compatibility, and sizing. With some fine entries in the review it may be difficult to determine what is best for your table, but we pack in as much information as we can to help you make the call.

Introduction



The entire review

Throughout WWII, the Maschinengewehr 34, or MG34, machine gun was a primary weapon in the German arsenal, outfitting troops, vehicles and AFVs alike. We decided that for both infantry and support weaponry, the MG34 was a good set to judge by as it shows both infantry and guns clearly. We weren't disappointed. With the exception of QRF, the sets we received all had samples of both standing and firing figures, and we took advantage of that fact to bring measurements into the review.


With figures, there's a bit more to consider than with tanks. Some of the detail on a figure is not visible from 3 feet up, for example, so we took shots of each unit at the 3-foot level, just to give you a feel for how they'll look on your tabletop. We also took some pictures with a ruler in place so that you could get a feel for the relative height of the figures. In the same vein, we talk in each write-up about relative sizing, so you know which sets can be mixed on a single stand.

Once again we were placed into the rather tough position of deciding among some very good sets of figures. Any of these would look good on your table, but we're in the business of helping you make the tough choices. While the write-ups have the good and bad about each set along with information about which minis could be used together, we settled on a winner. After comparing price, level of detail, number of figures, number of poses, and of course quality of both the set and the individual figures, we chose Battle Honors' Africa Korps Heavy MG34's for use on our table because of the figure quality, price and level of detail.

The Fine Print

For all of the figures in this review, we took the following approach:
- Pricing is based on what we paid, assuming that what you pay will be similar. This is a struggle that all serious reviewers deal with: Is it street price or MSRP? We'd be interested in hearing your view.
- We painted half of the figures in standard German green uniform.
- We painted the remainder of the figures in desert sand uniforms (Italian or looted British, take your pick).
That might not be realistic--most troops had bits and pieces of their original uniform mixed with things they picked up or traded--but it was necessary for an apples-to-apples comparison.
- No figures were mounted for this review, but because Flames of War provides stands with its figures, we arranged the figures on the stands for their picture. We don't normally mount figures for reviews because the point is the figures, not how pretty we can make the stand. Trust us, they'll get mounted up pretty quickly.
- Due to an error on our part, the Battlefront MG34 team purchased for this review was a slight variation from the Africa Corps team. As such, we have included pictures of a mounted Africa Corps team from one of our armies. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Battle Honors/Quality Casting



Two Battle Honors teams from the front

The Battle Honors offering is one of the two HMG (heavy machine gun) sets we included in this review (the other being Battlefront), and at $0.31 per figure, it's one of the least expensive. Depending on your needs, this may well be the most cost-effective solution for your force (see Command Decision write-up). Both attacking and advancing teams are included in the package--four of each. That's four sets of three poses attacking and four sets of three poses walking. For a support team, this is a good mix for most games, and the selection is on par with the majority of competitors. For some games, of course, you will need a command team; of the sets in this review, only the Battlefront offering included a command team.

The greatest strength of the Battle Honors offering is quality. These figures are smaller than the largest of the figures, and yet, every expected detail is there, and readily paintable to boot. This was not true with all the sets that we included in this review, and this fact made the Battle Honors minis a joy to paint.


Two Battle Honors teams from the top front.

The greatest weakness of the Battle Honors offering is easily remedied if you build up your figures' bases, but it's something you should be aware of. The loaders hold the ammo belts awfully high for the guns, and in fact, out-of-the-box, we could slide the guns completely under the belts. We believe this is simply because the loader figure is on a base and the gunner is not--the scale is right between them. If you don't build up your bases before mounting, you will have to bend the belt, and the natural bend makes it appear to go up and over, making the bullets seem to lift into the air on the way into the breach. This is a simple case of mounting them at different heights. We use rubberized plaster on our mountings, so we'll just mount the gunner on the surface of the plaster, and we'll press the loader down so his stand is level with the top of the plaster. Problem solved. If you have a lot of patience, you might be able to bend the belt in a way that makes sense, but we didn't try it. The images show the belt lifting up above the gun and dropping back down; we did this to get pictures with the belt entering the gun even though they were not mounted.

These figures will mix very well with Peter Pig and QRF figures--close enough that they will look good on the same stand. They will not mix well, however, with Battlefront or Command Decision figures as the entire scale is smaller: limbs thinner, height shorter, helmets smaller. While Kamikaze, our resident "what-if" guy, is willing to mix and match them with larger figures ("Men are not all the same size, you know�"), for most gamers it will not be an acceptable solution.

The tripod for these figures is well done, and we think it looks rather good. These being listed as Africa Corps yet none of the figures having Africa Corps hats may set some gamers off, but remember that HMG teams are going to be support units among many troops in most armies, so this shouldn't be a deal-breaker. And, if you're running non-Africa Corps troops, there's nothing keeping you from painting these minis for a different theatre.

These are well-crafted figures that paint easily for a reasonable per-figure price. If the troops you're going to mix them with are of comparable scale, we think you will be very happy having them in your army.

Manufacturer: Battle Honors/Quality Casting
Model: Africa Korps Heavy MG34's
Price: $7.49 for 24 figures ($0.31 per figure)
Source: Warweb/Grandiosity (http://www.warweb.com/miniatures/qualitywwii.html)


The Battle Honors complete set

BattleFront/Flames of War

The Battlefront offering consists of four three-man HMG teams in firing positions and a three-man command team. This set is the only one reviewed to include the command team. This is also the only product to offer a separate machine gun--all of the other vendors had the gun and gunner melded into one piece. Finally, Battlefront ships bases with all its infantry, a nice touch for Flames of War players, not very useful to most others.


The Battle Front package as shipped to us.

The greatest strength of the Battlefront offering is detail and extras. The team at Battlefront puts together an appealing package with everything you need if you're playing Flames of War, but some of its extras are also useful to other gamers. If you play PBI, for example, the command team is useful for your games even if you have to mount them without the Flames of War stands. Detail is excellent, but the scaling has been tweaked just enough to allow you to paint them without resorting to single-haired brushes and magnifying glasses. This is a lesson at least one other vendor in this review could take heed of �.

The greatest weakness here is the same weakness that Battlefront has suffered since first we started purchasing from it: quality control. The cost of shipping missing parts must be so outrageous that it has to be eating away at profits. We received our kit with one missing loader and one missing commander (spotter), with two walking figures carrying ammo cases in their stead. This would work in a company box, but in a standalone blister it's not acceptable. Honestly, this frustration has almost eliminated Battlefront as a consideration for us when purchasing figures (other than for these reviews), even though we enjoy many of its figures and models.

Sadly, we accidentally ordered the "early war" MG34 team, not the "Africa Corps" MG34 team, so had we placed the correct order, we might have avoided the incessant QA problems at Battlefront. Due to the incomplete set and the fact that we ordered the wrong pack, we're including pictures of both the set for the review and a stand that we had previously painted and mounted for one of our Flames of War armies. Each picture is clearly labeled.


An Afrika Korps MG34 Team from our armies

These figures are the most expensive in terms of per-figure cost of those reviewed. They are also more expensive than most competitors in terms of package price. While you do get a lot of extras for the cost, we aren't certain that this is a bargain if you don't play Flames of War.


Battle Front package after first "fix"

The fit for the gunner to the gun can be a little tricky on these figures, but not anything fear-inspiring. Otherwise, the Battlefront figures had pretty average amounts of sprue and oddities. We found them a pleasure to paint and think they look excellent on the table. They fit well with Command Decision figures, but we wouldn't mix them with the other figures in this review as they are oversized in comparison.

If you purchase in-person and can inspect the kit, or you're willing to deal with the customer-service issues, you will not be disappointed with these models. Even if you have problems, Sam at Battlefront is great to deal with, as long as you can wait for the fix to be sent.

Manufacturer: Battlefront Miniatures/Flames of War
Model: MG Platoon (Early War)
Price: $9.00 for 15 figures ($0.60 per figure)
Source: Flames of War Online Store (www.flamesofwar.com)


The set at the time of this printing (remaining missing figure is on the way from BF).

Command Decision

The Command Decision offering is massive for a support team: 50 figures comprising 10 two-man teams of prone figures, 14 two-man teams of walking (some would say "advancing") figures and two spare loaders. At first we thought this was a waste, as it's a rare army that needs so many support gun teams. But after further reflection, we decided that if you're building an army in a system like Flames of War that differentiates between rifle teams and rifle/machine gun teams, this set is perfect for rounding out rifle/machine gun infantry.


One of each pose in the Command Decision offering.

The greatest strength of the Command Decision set is the variety of poses. With nine distinct poses in a variety of uniforms, even fifty figures do not appear repetitious. There are men in Afrika Korps caps, pith helmets and standard-issue helmets. While we have seen little evidence that the pith helmet was utilized at the front, they were issued, and we think they're a great addition to an Afrika Korps army.

The greatest weakness is that the scale and level of detail are lacking in some respects. We found it painful to paint these miniatures, primarily in places--like the legs--that are oversized for the rest of the figure. In addition, while the straps are probably correctly proportioned for the figure, they were very difficult to paint due to their miniscule size. Other vendors in this review were able to balance clear details with sizing.

There was also a problem with sprue: The way that the figures were originally designed seems to have combined with the age of the molds to create some pretty tight spaces that collect undesirable material. The level of detail and numerous nooks and crannies created by some poses, combined with the sprue's depth in the figure and the surrounding "good" metal, forced us to spend many hours cleaning and painting (see picture). While we were fairly pleased with the end results, there are other ways we'd have rather spent this time.


The worst of the Command Decision sprue-laden figures. Note the massive right leg of the bottom center figure.

If mix-and-match is your goal, you'll find that Command Decision is closest in scale to the Battlefront miniatures, and should look fine combined on a stand with them. They fit in okay with Battle Honors also, but are larger than the minis from other vendors in this review--enough so to be noticeable on the tabletop. In addition, the issues with cleanliness of the Command Decision molds is obvious when placed next to Battlefront miniatures, so whether they match up well enough for your tastes is a call you'll have to make.

In the end, the problems we found with the Command Decision offering were not too obvious at "tabletop level" (3 feet away), so all of the pain is in the process of painting them. If you have the time to properly prepare and paint these miniatures, you will be happy with them. For our purposes, we prefer a cleaner mold than Command Decision offers, though the variety of poses is still very appealing.

Manufacturer: Old Glory/Command Decision
Model: German Afrika Corps LMG
Price: $10.48 for 50 figures ($0.21 per figure)
Source: Warweb/Grandiosity (http://www.warweb.com/oldgwwii.html)


Top front view of one of each pose from Command Decision.

Peter Pig

The Peter Pig set comes as two prone machine gun teams and two advancing machine gun teams, each with a gunner and a loader. These figures are sold as DAK (Deutsche Afrika-Korps), and they fit that bill well. Even though the per-figure cost is higher for Peter Pig, if you need only a very few figures, they may well be the least expensive overall solution.


The Peter Pig package from the front.

The biggest strength of the Peter Pig offering is the prone machine-gun teams. They look good, paint up well and include bases that slide together for a perfect match-up of loader to gunner. The rifle of the loader poking out from under his arm is a nice touch also, but we must warn you that this feature was not greeted with equal enthusiasm among the group. Some felt that the differentiation between figure and base was not clear enough and that this detracted from the overall effect. In the end, we overruled the naysayer by placing them in front of an MG34 and asking again, very slowly . You can look at the pictures and come to your own conclusions.

The greatest weakness of the Peter Pig offering is the cost, especially if you're building a unit with many LMGs (light machine gunners) in it. Because many Africa Corps infantry companies were equipped with MG34s in LMG stances, this is likely to be a problem unless you already have your army and are looking to expand some aspect of it.

We were also not thrilled with the faces of the standing figures--they looked long, and bring to mind the adjective "horse-faced." Of course, the face of a figure is rarely seen from tabletop distance, so this issue may be nothing to you.

The detail on the Peter Pig figures was acceptable, and overall they were easy and fun to paint. The amount of sprue was lower than any other vendor in the review, which is nice in the sense that some vendors had a ton of sprue and interconnections in tough-to-reach places. If all else is roughly equal and we're given a choice, we'll take sprue-free every time.

Peter Pig figures are scaled close to QRF and Battle Honors figures, fitting in well together. Figures from Battlefront and Command Decision are obviously different scales, and as we said in other write-ups, the variation is likely great enough that you will not want them on the same stand.

Peter Pig is a good choice if your need is for a few minis, or you want to mix a few into an existing army to vary the poses of your LMGs. If you care about the size of faces or have many LMGs to purchase, this product might be a less appealing choice. Finally, if you despise sprue, you'll be very happy with Peter Pig miniatures � assuming our purchase was indicative of normal sprue volume.

Manufacturer: Peter Pig
Model: DAK w/LMGs
Price: $3.99 for eight figures ($0.50 per figure)
Source: Brookhurst Hobby (http://www.brookhursthobbies.com/)


The Peter Pig offering

LKM Direct/Quick Reaction Force

The QRF set comes with four prone teams comprising a gunner and a spotter, which is unique in this review--all of the other LMG teams had a gunner and a loader. This combination is a good way to introduce a variety of poses into your armies, particularly if you're fielding LMG-based infantry. When the review was nearly completed we discovered that QRF also sold a set that included standing figures, and we ordered that set also, but it did not arrive before publication date, so this review includes their prone-only figures.


A top-front view of the QRF offering.


The greatest strength of the QRF offering is the uniqueness of the poses. We struggled at first to keep from shoving the spotter up against the gunner, but once we adjusted, we liked the option of having some teams in our army that are unique.

The greatest weakness of the QRF offering is the choppiness of the carving. While other vendors took some care to round the folds in the cloth for a realistic look, the QRF figures are very sharp and angular. If you've ever been in the military, imagine going to battle with your clothing starched to board consistency; this is the mental image we got when painting up these minis, and it shows through in the finished product. Attempting to dry-brush a lighter color over these sharp edges left the figures looking a little unnatural. Like most problems with 15mm figures, this effect is not too obvious at 3 feet, if you're careful when you paint them.

These figures mix very well with Peter Pig and Battle Honors, but there is a noticeable scale difference between QRF and the Battlefront and Command Decision minis. We do not think you will be pleased if you mix QRF with these two figure sets.

QRF figures price out per-figure on the higher end of the range, and other than the cool, different poses, we don't see a particular reason why you should pay the premium. But if you are indeed looking for some variety, they're a good choice.

Manufacturer: LKM Direct/Quick Reaction Force
Model: 4 x LMG
Price: $3.69 for eight figures ($0.46 per figure)
Source: Warweb/Grandiosity (http://www.warweb.com/miniatures/qrf_wwii.html)

Tools of the Trade




The entire review in both lighter and darker shots.

All figures in this review were assembled and painted utilizing the following tools:

- Floquil All-Purpose Spray, 330010 / Base Black Figure-Primer
We use Floquil for our 1/285th projects because it's very finely ground and makes a nice, thin layer of primer. We decided to use it for this review so that paint did not cause any obscuring of detail.
- Valejo (Flames of War Branded) paints
o Quartermaster's Set
o German Afrika Korps Set
- Some Citadel and one Reaper paint
Valejo brush paints are the first water-based paints that we have truly loved, though we admit that even their flesh is a little gummy.
- Future Floor Wax (magic sauce) blended with paint for highlighting
- Brushes are primarily Reaper, with a few Citadel and Adikolor for specific tasks
- Testers Clear Matte Sealer for dull-coating
- Zap-A-Gap for gluing



The measure of the prone gunners. Note that these are all MG34s.



A picture of similar standing figures from each set



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